If you're nervous about traffic stops, you have every reason to be.
Trying to predict the outcome of any encounter with the police is a bit like playing Russian roulette: most of the time you will emerge relatively unscathed, although decidedly poorer and less secure about your rights, but there's always the chance that an encounter will turn deadly.
According to the Justice Department, the most common reason for a citizen to come into contact with the police is being a driver in a traffic stop.
On average, one in 10 Americans gets pulled over by police.
According to data collected under Virginia's new Community Policing Act, black drivers are almost two times more likely than white drivers to be pulled over by police and three times more likely to have their vehicles searched. As the Washington Post concludes, "'Driving while black' is, indeed, a measurable phenomenon."
Historically, police officers have been given free range to pull anyone over for a variety of reasons.
This free-handed approach to traffic stops has resulted in drivers being stopped for windows that are too heavily tinted, for driving too fast, driving too slow, failing to maintain speed, following too closely, improper lane changes, distracted driving, screeching a car's tires, and leaving a parked car door open for too long.
Motorists can also be stopped by police for driving near a bar or on a road that has large amounts of drunk driving, driving a certain make of car (Mercedes, Grand Prix and Hummers are among the most ticketed vehicles), having anything dangling from the rearview mirror (air fresheners, handicap parking permits, toll transponders or rosaries), and displaying pro-police bumper stickers.
Incredibly, a federal appeals court actually ruled unanimously in 2014 that acne scars and driving with a stiff upright posture are reasonable grounds for being pulled over. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that driving a vehicle that has a couple air fresheners, rosaries and pro-police bumper stickers at 2 MPH over the speed limit is suspicious, meriting a traffic stop.
Equally appalling, in Heien v. North Carolina, the U.S. Supreme Court--which has largely paved the way for the police and other government agents to probe, poke, pinch, taser, search, seize, strip and generally manhandle anyone they see fit in almost any circumstance--allowed police officers to stop drivers who appear nervous, provided they provide a palatable pretext for doing so.
In other words, drivers beware.
Caron Nazario, a uniformed Army officer returning home from his duty station, was stopped for not having a rear license plate (his temporary plates were taped to the rear window of his new SUV). Nazario, who is black and Latino, pulled over at a well-lit gas station only to be pepper sprayed, held at gunpoint, beaten and threatened with execution.
Zachary Noel was tasered by police and charged with resisting arrest after he questioned why he was being ordered out of his truck during a traffic stop. "Because I'm telling you to," the officer replied before repeating his order for Noel to get out of the vehicle and then, without warning, shooting him with a taser through the open window.
Traffic stops aren't just dangerous. They can be downright deadly.
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